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The EMH from Voyager needed to access personnel files in order to appear as others (see "Renaissance Man"), but I was wondering how Odo does so. Does he merely need to observe the individual, does he need "files" (maybe something as basic as a touch, like the T-1000), or what? Surely he needs to at least observe the individual, unless the person/object was described to Odo in perfect detail. Or perhaps he could go off a picture.

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    Odo never made much sense to me. His shape changing violates the conservation of mass/energy. He has no obvious metabolism. He can't form a realistic face but can perfectly copy a dog. He seems to be able to reproduce a working communicator. I don't think there's a solid explanation of how his shape changing accurately reproduces objects, animals and people. The closest we get is learning that he practices in his room. – rosesunhill Mar 7 '16 at 3:45
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    @rosesunhill The only way I could reconcile Odo's face was that early on he couldn't do faces, but then kept his somewhat misshapen features for consistency. It would be tough for someone trying to blend into a culture full of solids by constantly altering your features (not just hair style or something more "changeable"). – Jane S Mar 7 '16 at 5:18
  • In one episode, Odo takes the form of a bird, and someone asks him how he can look exactly like a bird, and Odo responds that he doesn't look exactly like a bird to other birds. – John Sensebe Mar 7 '16 at 17:58
  • @JaneS That does not work out with one episode, in which the crew of the defiant meets descendants of themselves. Odo is still alive then and got better doing faces, as he states himself. – kratenko Mar 9 '16 at 10:29
  • It was my understanding that the inability to mimic the faces of "solids" was a limitation "programmed" into Odo by the founders so that he never forgot who he really was. I thought this was stated explicitly in canon or supplemental materials, but I can't find it. – pleurocoelus Mar 9 '16 at 14:55
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It is never explained in canon.

The closest that DS9 comes to discussing Odo's shapeshifting / copying ability in serious terms is "The Begotten". A snippet from his conversation with Dr. Mora:

ODO: What are you doing?

MORA: I'm measuring its volume. It's been here a week and it's only grown seventeen percent. After three days in my lab, you were twice that size.

ODO: Well, maybe I was anxious to grow up so I could get out of there.

MORA: My point is, you've made no progress. By this time I'd already gotten you to mimic half a dozen simple forms.

The conversation is quite long, but it never goes into detail about how Odo learns to copy these "simple forms", let alone more complicated ones. It is mentioned that, at first, Dr. Mora physically forced Odo into contiainers of various shapes, and that electric shocks were used to train Odo to maintain the shapes, but it is not explained how Odo learned to copy shapes without being forced into them.

Out-of-universe, Odo was whatever the writers needed him to be, with both incredible feats and limitations. They were consistent regarding his inability to replicate humanoid faces, but were inconsistent about the general extent of his skills. How he is able to copy an eagle exactly but unable to copy a face at all is, unfortunately, never explained in-universe in any satisfactory way.

  • That same episode does go a little into detail on how he learned the shapes: by being physically forced into those shapes by the containers he was placed in. He was then encouraged to maintain the shapes by the electric shock of the table he was on. – Xantec Mar 7 '16 at 14:57
  • @Xantec : Added, thanks. :-) – Praxis Mar 9 '16 at 6:23

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